Ducks on the Pod “Preseason” All-Sophomore Team

As you make your way through this list, you’re going to find some guys who are technically entering their third season as big leaguers (Benintendi, Judge, et al.).  Hell, Manny Piña has appeared in four different seasons, dating back to 2011.

I used only one requirement when compiling this list.  Each of these players has one thing in common.  They all exceeded Major League rookie limits (130 at-bats, 50 innings pitched OR 45 days on the active 25-man roster) during the 2017 season.

Here are the best players who fall into that category:

C – Manny Piña – Milwaukee Brewers

2017 Stats: .279/.327/.424, 9 HR, 43 RBI, 45 R, 21 2B, 2 SB in 107 games

How he got on this list

He was solid all the way around, which puts you near the top as a catcher nowadays.  Most teams would kill to get this kind of production from their backstop.  He can provide some pop toward the bottom of the lineup, a luxury in the National League.  Defensively, he was pretty good at throwing out would-be base-stealers.  Piña was a tick over 35%, sandwiched between Yadi Molina and Yasmani Grandal.  That’s good company to keep.

What’s his next step?

Piña is a special case.  He’s already 30 and he’s had an unusual career.  In fact, this is technically his fifth major league season, his first being a four-game stint in 2011, his second just a single game in 2012.  All things considered, I think matching the totals he put up last year in his breakout campaign would make for a more-than-successful follow-up.

1B – Cody Bellinger – Los Angeles Dodgers

2017 Stats: .267/.352/.581, 39 HR, 97 RBI, 87 R, 26 2B, 10 SB in 132 games

How he got on this list

Well, he broke the National League’s rookie home run record, which was set in 1930 and tied in 1956.  Beyond the numbers that won him the NL Rookie of the Year Award, Bellinger had a stabilizing effect on his team.  The Dodgers were 9-11 before his debut.  They went 91-41 in games he appeared in from then on.  Obviously, a lot went into LA reaching Game 7 of the World Series.  It wasn’t all Bellinger.  Still, I think it’s safe to say they wouldn’t have gotten there without him.

What’s his next step?

It’s unfair to expect a 22-year-old kid to hit 40 homers, but that’s where Bellinger set his bar with such an incredible rookie season.  Don’t be surprised if that number dips a bit as he learns to shorten up and close some of those holes in his swing.

2B – Ian Happ – Chicago Cubs

2017 Stats: .253/.328/.514, 24 HR, 68 RBI, 62 R, 17 2B, 8 SB in 115 games

How he got on this list

Happ got what appeared to be a temporary call-up on May 13 to help the Cubs deal with some injuries.  He went yard in his first major league game, never looked back, and never got sent back down.  He just kept hitting.  His versatility (played five positions) helped Joe Maddon to keep penciling him in.

What’s his next step?

Happ has to learn how to cut down on the strikeouts.  129 of them in 364 at-bats is far too many.  So far this season, he’s got 25, which puts him just outside the top 20 in the bigs.  That’s got to stop.

3B – Rafael Devers – Boston Red Sox

2017 Stats: .284/.338/.482, 10 HR, 30 RBI, 34 R, 14 2B, 3 SB in 58 games

How he got on this list

Devers can flat-out hit.  He didn’t show his age at all while standing at the plate.  He’s got a beautiful stroke from the left side.

What’s his next step?

He’ll take his game to the next level by improving in the field.  There’s no doubt he can hold his own offensively, but he’s a bit of a liability at third.  Getting more comfortable there will allow him to remain focused on his hitting.

SS – Paul DeJong – St. Louis Cardinals

2017 Stats: .285/.325/.532, 25 HR, 65 RBI, 55 R, 26 2B, 1 SB in 108 games

How he got on this list

Like Bellinger, like Happ, like Devers, like a lot of the young guys in today’s game, DeJong turned a short-term call-up into something more permanent by refusing to stop hitting.  A year ago, it was Aledmys Diaz who was coming off an impressive rookie season as the Cardinals shortstop.  Unfortunately for Diaz, he began his sophomore campaign in a major slump.  That opened the door for DeJong, who began to get some time to give Diaz a break.  Soon enough it became clear DeJong was the guy the Cards wanted to keep around.

What’s his next step?

Diaz was traded to Toronto in December so the shortstop job in St. Louis officially belongs to DeJong.  His next step is to prove that the front office made the right decision.  Don’t let them even begin to think about having to do with him what they did with Diaz.

LF – Andrew Benintendi – Boston Red Sox

2017 Stats: .271/.352/.424, 20 HR, 90 RBI, 84 R, 26 2B, 20 SB in 151 games

How he got on this list

Benny has all five tools.  1) He hits for a high average.  2) He hits for power.  3) He’s fast and runs the bases well.  4) He’s a plus-defender, no matter where you put him in the outfield.  And 5) he’s got a good throwing arm, which is only aided by Fenway’s small left field.

What’s his next step?

Sharpening those five tools.  He’s a good ballplayer, as it stands now.  If he continues to progress, which it’s safe to say he will, he’ll soon be a damn good ballplayer, and eventually a great ballplayer.  I really think the sky is the limit for this kid.

CF – Manuel Margot – San Diego Padres

2017 Stats: .263/.313/.409, 13 HR, 39 RBI, 53 R, 18 2B, 17 SB in 126 games

How he got on this list

His speed put him on the radar and carried him to the show.  Once he got there, he started hitting home runs like he never had before.  Now, Margot seems like a potential 20-20 guy.

What’s his next step?

Continuing to tap into that power he flashed last summer.  Chalk it up to his receiving more at-bats, call him a guy who shines when the spotlight is on him, whatever the reason, Margot hit more homers last year than he did in any of his six minor league seasons.  Since he doesn’t look like a guy who can hit .300, every dinger he hits is going to help him that much more.  His general goal should be to position himself as San Diego’s starting center fielder for the long term.

RF – Aaron Judge – New York Yankees

2017 Stats: .284/.422/.627, 52 HR, 114 RBI, 128 R, 24 2B, 9 SB in 155 games

How he got on this list

Setting the world on fire with the greatest rookie season we’ve seen in recent memory.

What’s his next step?

The most impressive aspects of Judge’s unbelievable rookie year were his understanding of the strike zone and his plate discipline.  Sure, he struck out 208 times, but he also walked 127 times.  If he can hone this skill and resist the modern urge to become and all-or-nothing type, he can be the most feared slugger around.

DH – Trey Mancini – Baltimore Orioles

2017 Stats: .293/.338/.488, 24 HR, 78 RBI, 65 R, 26 2B, 1 SB in 147 games

How he got on this list

Despite being overshadowed by Judge and Bellinger, Mancini had a fabulous rookie season.  He cranked five longballs in his first 51 at-bats and built upon that torrid start as the weather warmed up.

What’s his next step?

Like most sluggers his age, Mancini could stand to cut back on the strikeouts.  When you look at where this Baltimore team is headed, it could be Mancini anchoring the offense in the near future.  The more well-rounded his offensive game, the easier he’ll be able to handle that monumental task.

MI – Ozzie Albies – Atlanta Braves

2017 Stats: .286/.354/.456, 6 HR, 28 RBI, 34 R, 9 2B, 8 SB in 57 games

How he got on this list

Look at the numbers.  Now look at the amount of games it took for Albies to put up those numbers.  That’s a lot of production in just over a third of a season.

What’s his next step?

Just keep doing what you’re doing, big fella.  Albies has been one of the most pleasant surprises of this young season.  Swatting six homers in his first 90 at-bats is quite an encouraging sign for a guy who wasn’t projected to hit for much power at this level.

CI – Josh Bell – Pittsburgh Pirates

2017 Stats: .255/.334/.466, 26 HR, 90 RBI, 75 R, 26 2B, 2 SB in 159 games

How he got on this list

The kid can hit.  And on top of that, he can hit from both sides of the plate.  The pirates took their time in removing Bell’s training wheels, but last year shows you exactly why they did.  He looks like he can be something special.

What’s his next step?

Becoming a guy who’s unaffected by lefty-righty matchmaking.  Bell held his own as a righty hitting against lefties, but there was bit of a drop-off compared to his work as a lefty hitting against righties.  Eliminating that drop-off will elevate his game to the next level.

OF – Rhys Hoskins – Philadelphia Phillies

2017 Stats: .259/.396/.618, 18 HR, 48 RBI, 37 R, 7 2B, 2 SB in 50 games

How he got on this list

Like Albies, Hoskins turned in a season’s worth of stats playing in roughly a third of a season’s worth of games.  In the year of rookies hitting homers, Hoskins deserved to take home Best Supporting Actor honors.

What’s his next step?

Hoskins just has to flesh it out over a full season, and he’ll be looking at MVP votes.

UT – Jose Martinez – St. Louis Cardinals

2017 Stats: .309/.379/.518, 14 HR, 46 RBI, 47 R, 13 2B, 4 SB in 106 games

How he got on this list

Martinez took a long, winding road to the show.  Along the way, though, he turned himself into a really good hitter.  Last year, he was one of the best pinch hitters / bats off the bench in the game.

What’s his next step?

Holding down that full-time first base gig without letting those impressive numbers slide.  The Cardinals had a lot of moving parts in the offseason.  One of those was Martinez transitioning from a bench role to the starting first baseman.  There are a lot of Cardinals who can play multiple positions.  Martinez is the reason a lot of them have been doing so this season.  You simply can’t let his bat go to waste by keeping him on the bench.

SP – Lucas Giolito – Chicago White Sox

2017 Stats: 3-3, 2.38 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 6.8 K/9, 2.83 K/BB, 34 K in 45.1 IP over 7 starts

How he got on this list

When you’re allowing less than one base runner per inning, you’re doing something that even the elite of the elite struggle to do.  That’s what Giolito did over seven starts to finish 2017.  There were some suspect opponents, with even further depleted lineups due to September call-ups.  Even so, I think it’s lazy to discount what he did because it didn’t come against great competition.

What’s his next step?

Learning to throw strikes, smartly.  Look, he’s got 19 walks in 20 innings to start 2018.  We all know that’s just not going to cut it.  That ratio must come down in a major way.  I don’t think he’s suddenly lost the ability to find the zone.  I think he’s just trying to be too fine with every pitch.  When you have the kind of stuff Giolito has, you don’t have to be absolutely perfect with every single pitch.  You can get away with some missed locations.  He’s yet to learn that.

SP – Dinelson Lamet – San Diego Padres

2017 Stats: 7-8, 4.57 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 10.9 K/9, 2.57 K/BB, 139 K in 114.1 IP over 21 starts

How he got on this list

Do you see all those strikeouts?  A starter striking out more than one per inning finds himself in rarified air.  Here’s the list of starters with a higher K/9 rate who made at least as many starts as Lamet did in 2017: Chris Sale, Robbie Ray, Max Scherzer, Corey Kluber, Chris Archer, Rich Hill, and Brad Peacock.

What’s his next step?

Unfortunately, Lamet will be having Tommy John surgery soon, which will put him out of commission for the remainder of this season.  So, his next step is doing exactly what the doctors and trainers tell him, keeping the rest of his body in shape, setting himself up for a speedy recovery, and being able to hit the ground running when he does get the green light to begin throwing again.

SP – Jordan Montgomery – New York Yankees

2017 Stats: 9-7, 3.88 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 8.3 K/9, 2.82 K/BB, 144 K in 155.1 IP over 29 starts

How he got on this list

In a rotation that featured Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, C.C. Sabathia, and Sonny Gray (for half the season), there weren’t many headlines left to be had.  Montgomery didn’t get much love around the country, but that’s not because he didn’t deserve any.  Make no mistake; he had a very stable, consistent rookie year.

What’s his next step?

Montgomery should be soaking up all the game that Sabathia and others have to pass on.  The list of veteran starters you’d want a young pitcher to learn from doesn’t have many names on it before you get to Sabathia’s.  If I were Montgomery, I would be following C.C. around wherever he goes, trying to pick up those tidbits that only come with having been there and done that.

SP – Luis Castillo – Cincinnati Reds

2017 Stats: 3-7, 3.12 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 9.9 K/9, 3.06 K/BB, 98 K in 89.1 IP over 15 starts

How he got on this list

Castillo is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Reds’ pitching carousel.  It’s hard to say whether he would’ve gotten the opportunity to prove himself had the Reds had more starters they were confident in.  Truth is it doesn’t matter now.  Castillo is here and, judging by his impressive 2017 showing, here to stay, despite the lumps he’s taken in the early going of 2018.

What’s his next step?

Smoothing out those lumps would be nice.  In five starts this season, Castillo has given up six, four, three, four, and three earned runs.  The Reds are going to keep him around, because there’s no reason not to at this point.  But if he can’t find a way to help himself and post some zeroes, it’s going to be even harder for the Reds to start helping him in the run support department.

SP – Jake Faria – Tampa Bay Rays

2017 Stats: 5-4, 3.43 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 8.7 K/9, 2.71 K/BB, 84 K in 86.2 IP over 14 starts and 2 relief appearances

How he got on this list

The years pass, the names change, yet still, the Rays harvest young pitching talent like no one else can.  Faria is the next in a long line of promising arms to work their way up to Tampa.  While no one was watching the Rays drown in the AL East standings, Faria was laying a solid major league foundation for himself.

What’s his next step?

He should be learning all he can from Chris Archer while Archer’s still around to be learned from.  The time will soon come when Faria has to take the reins and set the tone for this rotation.

SP – German Marquez – Colorado Rockies

2017 Stats: 11-7, 4.39 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, 3.00 K/BB, 147 K in 162 IP over 29 starts

How he got on this list

The numbers aren’t as eye-popping for Marquez as they are for most of the guys on this list.  That is, of course, because he pitches his home games at Coors Field.  Marquez knows by now that there are going to be some extra hits that fall in.  The best way to minimize the impact of those extra hits is to keep the bases clear.  Marquez did a wonderful job of that, as evidenced by his 3:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

What’s his next step?

Marquez is faced with the unique task of having to conquer the demons that have plagued Rockies pitchers since the team’s inception twenty years ago.  As long as he remains in Colorado, it’s going to be a constant struggle to figure out how to make his pitches break more.  It’s either that, or praying he makes most of his starts on the road.

SP – Sean Newcomb – Atlanta Braves

2017 Stats: 4-9, 4.32 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, 9.7 K/9, 1.89 K/BB, 108 K in 100 IP over 19 starts

How he got on this list

He strikes people out.  In today’s game, that plays.  It also tends to make you look the other way when you see his WHIP sitting so high.

What’s his next step?

If he can cut back on the walks without sacrificing too many of the strikeouts that got him to this point, he should be able to solidify himself as one of the guys the Braves want to keep in the rotation beyond this year.  That would be a successful summer for Newcomb.

RP – Wandy Peralta – Cincinnati Reds

2017 Stats: 3-4, 3.76 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 7.93 K/9, 2.38 K/BB, 57 K in 64.2 IP over 69 appearances

How he got on this list

Life as a middle reliever is strange.  If the fans know your name, it’s probably because you’ve blown a couple of games.  Peralta did a great job staying relatively unknown.

What’s his next step?

He’s off to a bit of a wild start, having walked as many batters as he’s struck out through his first 11.1 innings.  Scaling that back will help him remain the stopper Reds fans love to not know about.

RP – Jose Torres – San Diego Padres

2017 Stats: 7-4, 4.21 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 8.3 K/9, 3.94 K/BB, 63 K in 68.1 IP over 62 appearances

How he got on this list

Walks are killer.  Torres did a wonderful job limiting the free passes he handed out, which, in turn, limited the damage that was done to him by the home runs that he did allow.

What’s his next step?

More importantly than anything on the field, his goal should be getting his life back on track.  Torres is facing domestic violence charges stemming from an incident over the offseason.  Without knowing too much more than that, I think it’s safe to say he’s got a lot of things to attend to before baseball comes back into the picture.

RP – Keynan Middleton – Los Angeles Angels

2017 Stats: 6-1, 3 SV, 3.86 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 9.7 K/9, 3.50 K/BB, 63 K in 58.1 IP over 64 appearances

How he got on this list

At some point late last year, I’m not sure when because I stopped watching Angels games, Middleton became the most reliable bullpen option for Mike Scioscia to call upon.

What’s his next step?

Don’t give Scioscia a chance to second-guess his decision to move him into such a position of trust.  It’s getting even harder to do since Middleton is now getting the bulk of the save opportunities.  With greater trust comes greater responsibility.  Middleton has earned both.  Now it’s time to prove he deserves even more.

RP – Danny Barnes – Toronto Blue Jays

2017 Stats: 3-6, 3.55 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 8.5 K/9, 2.58 K/BB, 62 K in 66 IP over 60 appearances

How he got on this list

Opposing batters hit an even .200 against Barnes.  Aroldis Chapman had an identical batting average against.  Obviously, I’m not saying Barnes is as good as Chapman.  But that does give you an idea just how nasty this guy was.

What’s his next step?

What’s better than the stats Barnes compiled in 2017?  Well, the stats he’s racked up so far in 2018.  Through 12 appearances, 11.2 innings, 14 strikeouts, a WHIP of 1.03, and an ERA of 0.77.  It looks like he’s ready to shift our mindset regarding his performance from surprise to expectation.

RP – Robert Stephenson – Cincinnati Reds

2017 Stats: 5-6, 1 SV, 4.68 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, 1.62 K/BB, 86 K in 84.2 IP over 11 starts and 14 relief apps

How he got on this list

His overall numbers from last year were alright.  But his second-half numbers, once he moved from the bullpen into the rotation, were much better.  5-4, 3.30 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 8.9 K/9, 1.59 K/BB, 59 K in 60 IP over 11 starts and one relief appearance.  That should settle any questions about his role going forward.

What’s his next step?

Apparently, it’s proving that he belongs on the roster.  This is puzzling to say the least, especially considering how desperate the Reds are for decent pitching.  I understand they want to try some guys out, but shouldn’t Stephenson be near the top of that list?